Amitabh Tiwari & Subhash Chandra
VP Singh, born on 25 June 1931, led Janata Dal formed the 2nd non-Congress government at the center supported by BJP and Left Front from the outside. While Janata Dal bagged 143 seats, BJP got 85 and Left Front (CPM & CPI) 45 seats. This government composed of almost the same elements as the previous Janata Party experiment in 1977. BJP was born out of Janata Party. Similarly Janata Dal was formed by predominantly merger of Jan Morcha (led by VP Singh), Janata Party (led by Chandrasekhar) and Lok Dal led by Ajit Singh (son of Charan Singh) on the birth anniversary of JP Narayan mentor of Janata Party.
|Vote Share %||Won||
Vote Share %
|Indian National Congress||
|Bharatiya Janata Party||
|Janata Party (1984) / Janata Dal (1989)||
|Dravida Munetra Kazhagam||
|Communist Party Of India (MARXIST)||
|All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam||
|Communist Party Of India||
This government as well suffered from the same weakness as the previous 1977 government – many prime ministerial candidates and their big egos. Chandrasekhar and VP Singh were the tallest leaders amongst the Janata Dal constituents. A Young Turk, Chandrasekhar, left the Congress to join JP movement when Indira declared emergency in 1975. VP Singh was the person who exposed the corruption in Bofors scam of Congress and was considered to be largely responsible for Rajiv’s defeat in 1989. Chandrasekhar remained firm in resolve to contest him. VP Singh told Chandrasekhar and told him that he had agreed to the government being led by Devi Lal, patriarch of Haryana politics and Haryana strongman. ‘To call what Singh did next disingenuous would be the understatement of the century.’ – Inder Malhotra, Indian Express, 16 Feb. 2015.
In a pre-planned manner, Devi Lal expressed his inability to take up the job and proposed the name of VP instead in a quid pro quo deal in which Devi Lal’s son Chautala was made the CM of Haryana. Chandrasekhar felt cheated at this turn of events and declined to serve as minister in the government. This sow the seeds of discontent in this anti-Congress govt. since day one. VP govt. like previous Morarji Desai government couldn’t last his full term.
Five events played a key role in shortening his tenure.
1. The Bofors Issue
VP Singh won the elections to a large extent on the corruption expose he did on the Bofors purchase. He claimed in election speeches that he would make public the names involved in the scam and get them punished within 15 days of his tenure. But he failed to do the same even within 1 year of his term leading to disenchantment within the public.
2. The Kashmir Crisis
VP Singh made Mufti Mohammed Sayeed the home minister in his government hoping to earn brownie points from the community. Within days of his taking charge, his daughter Rubaiya was kidnapped by Kashmiri separatists. Mufti buckled under pressure and used his clout to get five terrorists released in exchange of his daughter’s release. The state government headed by Farooq Abdullah resisted the move but was threatened that his government would be dismissed if he didn’t obey. This is seen by many as a starting point of resurgence in Kashmir and the move was criticized by public as well as BJP.
3. The Mandal Commission
VP Singh throughout his life championed the cause of backward classes despite being from an upper caste (Rajput). He implemented the recommendations of the Mandal Commission Report (in deep freezer for 9 years under Indira and Rajiv tenure) which provided for reservation to OBCs in government jobs. Politically VP hoped this would lead to consolidation of OBC votes in favour of his party. The move was opposed by upper caste groups throughout the country. In Delhi, Rajeev Goswami, a DU student survived an immolation bid. Along with 15% for SCs, 7.5% for STs and 27% for OBCs nearly half of govt. jobs were to be reserved for socially and educationally backward population. He earned the name as champion of social justice. BJP felt threatened that its Hindu vote bank will split. In many ways this sow the seeds for caste politics in India.
4. The Economic Crisis
VP Singh inherited an economy in bad shape, high inflation and high government debt. The external debt had risen from just under Rs. 20,000 crores in 1980 to RS. 90,000 crores when VP took over as PM due to large budget and trade deficits experienced in 1980s. The whole sale price index increased by 7.5% during 1986-1989. The economic performance was impacted by internal conflicts in Janata Dal. “Thus the industrial policy announced by Ajit Singh in May 1990 was torpedoed by Chandra Sekhar, the agricultural policy draft had to be revised for want of adequate homework, the policy in regard to non-viable public sector units had to be shelved for fear of adverse reaction from CPM, the eighth plan had to be given an arbitrary bias towards farming and procurement prices of food grains had to be jacked up to placate Devi Lal and his associates. The farm loan waiver scheme put a massive burden on the exchequer as well as on the commercial and cooperative banks. – The Long March – Profile of PM Chandra Sekhar by Attar Chand. In Sep. 1990, the National Front government approached IMF and borrowed USD 550 million undee the gold tranche facility to manage its balance of payments position and prevent any defaults. The foreign exchange reserves had reached very low levels.
5. The Ram Janmabhoomi Movement
This was also the time when BJP was trying to cement its place in the Indian political landscape seeing the decline in Congress. The Mandal card threatened its attempts to consolidate Hindu votebank. It came up with the kamandal card as critics put it. BJP started the movement for building up of the Ram temple at Ayodhya. Lal Krishna Advani started a nationwide rath yatra to drum up support for the movement. His chariot was stopped by Lalu Yadav in Samastipur Bihar on orders of VP just a week before it was scheduled to reach Ayodhya on Oct. 23, 1990. This strained the relationship between him and BJP leading to withdrawal of support. President asked VP to prove majority (first instance of President asking a PM to prove majority because it was perceived to have lost support). VP consequently lost vote of confidence with 142-346 votes and claimed he sacrificed government for sake of secularism.
Extract from our upcoming book on Congress Party – ‘Political & Management Lessons from the Grand Old Party’.
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